asino magnate Neil Bluhm, Rush Street Gaming co-founder and chairman, has lined up a team of lobbyists against a possible Chicago sports betting legalization. Bluhm is now pushing an effort to convince the City Council not to lift the ban on this form of wagering.
Bluhm’s interest in blocking sports betting corresponds to Rush Street being behind two separate groups vying to build a Chicago casino. Moreover, the magnate’s Des Plaines-based Rivers Casino, which already has a sportsbook, would be positioned to lose business should sports wagering become legal, reports Chicago Sun-Times.
During a hearing Monday at the Chicago City Council, the businessman argued that lifting the ban would lead to a “material negative impact” on the upcoming Chicago casino, and city revenues from it, regardless of which of the competing development teams is selected. According to Bluhm, losses could be up to 10% of the projected gaming revenue.
The magnate claims fewer guests would go to the Chicago casino if they had the opportunity to bet on sports at stadiums. “That means that less sports bettors will walk around the casino and play slots and table games,” he said. “It’s 20% of our business… This isn’t some hypothetical discussion.”
According to the Rush Street Gaming co-founder, Chicago casino revenue from slots and tables could see a major drop of up to $61 million a year, with the city losing 20% of that ($12 million), and the state losing $9 million.
“For almost 20 years, the city has tried to get a casino,” Bluhm said, according to the previously cited news source. “Now, when you finally can have one, why would you create several competitors when the city gets no revenue from sports betting?”
Opposing lobbyists have accused Bluhm of overstating his case out of selfish motives, as well as working behind the scenes to get the City Council to increase the tax on sports betting, which currently sits at 17%.
“If the tax rate on Illinois gets too high on sportsbooks or if sportsbooks are not allowed in the city of Chicago, all that will happen is those bettors will leave the city and flee to locations outside the city,” said Mara Georges, a registered lobbyist for the United Center.
Georges further claimed there is no evidence that sports wagering at professional sports venues would impact revenue from the Chicago casino, and said that in Washington D.C., the first district to allow sports betting at these venues, revenues at nearby casinos increased.
Bluhm, who has now registered as a lobbyist, lined up a powerful team of other lobbyists, including John Dunn, who spent eight years as intergovernmental affairs director for former Mayor Richard M. Daley; LaTasha Thomas, a former City Council member; and Mike Houlihan, son of former Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan.
The mogul’s concerns on sports betting cannibalizing a Chicago casino were also shared by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The mayor is reported as having close ties with Bluhm, who is seen as a possible candidate for the city’s casino license given the success shown by the Rivers casino.
Rush Street Gaming is participating in the casino race with two different bids: a proposed venue at the McCormick Place Lakeside Center, and a second one to break ground near Roosevelt Road and Clark Street.
Should the ban on sports betting be lifted, operations would be allowed at stadiums, including Wrigley, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena, or in a “permanent building or structure located within a five-block radius” of those venues. Wagering would also be authorized inside inter-track betting facilities and inside a Chicago casino.